Gretchen, who has contributed here before (see her last in August 2013), invites us to a deeper faith. Be sure to read her post with an open heart!
The beginning of a new year brings with it a flurry of New Year’s resolutions….lose weight, exercise more, de-clutter the closets, etc. We all have issues and things about which we feel guilty. So with the dawning of the new year, we muster up a renewed determination to rid ourselves of that guilt!
For those of us who are Christians, one of the things we feel guilty about is not reading our Bibles enough. This was underscored at a recent church service I attended when the pastor asked, “How many of you feel guilty about how much you read your Bibles?” Virtually every person in the congregation raised their hand. We know we ought to read our Bibles more, but we don’t. So for many Christians, January 1 begins with a stalwart resolution to read through the Bible by the end of the year.
Usually, this begins well, reviewing the exciting lives of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph in Genesis. Next, we are riveted by God’s incredible rescue of His people from Egypt in Exodus. Ah, but then, we reach Leviticus. Why did God have to put Leviticus so close to the beginning of the Bible to stop us in our tracks just as we were doing so well with our New Year’s guilt-bashing project? We miss a day of reading, then two days, then a week. Then we think to ourselves, “Well, I’ll try again next year.” We feel guilty for having failed yet again. I don’t know about you, but for me, this was a common pattern for decades.
For many years now, however, my experience has been entirely different. My heart delights to spend time reading my Bible, and it aches when I don’t. I can’t wait to read through and then start over again! What’s changed? Have I become more disciplined than ever? Have I unlocked the secret to optimal time management? No. Anyone who knows me can affirm that my closets are still messy, and my schedule is as full as always.
What’s changed is the discovery that behind all the poetry, the history, the commands, the genealogies—behind every word—is a person: God. The Bible is God sharing His heart with us. The accounts of peoples’ lives, the retelling of history, the instructions regarding how to relate to God and others all reveal the heart of a God who loves us and longs for an intimate relationship with us.
In Leviticus 26:11, God says, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.” It’s a theme that’s repeated over and over again in the Bible, until its culmination in that beautiful passage in Revelation 21: 3-4 “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ”
Can you hear the intimacy and tenderness in that? Only in a close relationship would one reach to touch the face of another and wipe away a tear. From Genesis to Revelation God reveals His desire for that kind of relationship with us—not out of some human-like neediness—but because He loves us.
You might be thinking, “Well, of course He loves us. He’s God. That’s what He’s supposed to do. John 3:16 and all that.” But this love is not just a global God-loves-the-world kind of love, though He certainly does. He loves you. And me.
At Jesus’ baptism, we get a glimpse into the intimacy of the relationship of the Trinity when the Father, through the Spirit, expresses His love for the Son. Mark 1:11 says, “A voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Again at the transfiguration in Mathew 17:5, we hear the Father’s words of love to His Son, “…and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ ”
Romans 5:5 tells us that “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Yes, in the same way that the Spirit shares the love of the Father with the Son, so the Spirit shares God’s love with us. Is the love He shares with us something He tosses at us from afar? Absolutely not! As Jesus prays for us in John 17, He prays that we might know that the Father loves us even as He has loved Him (Jesus). And Jesus goes on to pray, in John 17: 26, “…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” The love the Father and Son share, through the Spirit, is the same kind of relationship God wants to have with us.
This is the God who shares His heart with us in the Bible. The God who tells us over and over again that He wants to be our God, and He wants us to be His people. The God who is so close He can wipe the tears from our eyes. The God who pours His love into our hearts though the Spirit. The God who loves us in the same way He loves the Son.
If you are considering reading through the Bible in the coming year, may I offer a suggestion? Instead of opening your Bible to “do the right thing”, or to keep your New Year’s resolution, open your Bible to listen to the heart of the One whose love overflows as He speaks to you in close, intimate relationship. He’s waiting for you.